After a comeback season where everything seemed so right, Brett Favre watched his dreams fade during a night where everything went wrong.
As Favre looked into the huddle, less than two minutes and perhaps just as many yards from the Super Bowl appearance he had dreamed of for more than a decade, he must have felt like his next steps would take him off the field and into a plane headed for Miami.
But only minutes later, following a penalty call for too many men in the huddle and an interception play that had millions of football fans screaming “Run!” it seemed like fate or something had stolen his dream away.
In fact, that something may just have been the squad of referees who were calling the game.
Though plagued by turnovers—Minnesota fumbled nine times and lost three of them to go along with Favre’s two interceptions—the Vikings still had a shot to win if they could just get the ball back in overtime.
With the way the Vikings' “Thunder and Plunder” defense had been playing in the later moments of the game, keeping the Saints' tired offense from scoring would not be a tall order.
On third down outside of field goal range, New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees lofted a high pass to his tight end David Thomas, who was covered tight by linebacker Ben Leber, but it was overthrown and floated over his head.
The play was great on behalf of Leber who provided what looked like great coverage, except in the eyes of the nearby referee. Leber was called for unintentional pass interference, which saved a punt and gave the Saints a fresh set of downs.
The call should have never been made. Leber wasn’t playing the ball, but clearly made no contact with Thomas, and to top it off the pass sailed at least three yards too deep to be caught even if no defender had been present.
On an episode of the NFL Network’s Official Review with V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira, Pereira would say that Leber had unintentionally stepped on Thomas’ foot, but made no mention of the ball being uncatchable.
It should be expected that Pereira would back up his men on the field on a questionable call.
The question that should be asked is why, after all the non-calls earlier in the game, did the referee decide to throw the flag on a call that probably shouldn’t have been made and had such a great effect on the outcome of the game. (The Katrina Effect?)
Favre was not sacked in the game. However, the tough-as-nails quarterback was hit hard 16 times, many after he had already thrown the ball. Although only one was called, at least two were late hits.
The penalty called was against defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who clearly took a late shot on Favre, picking him up and driving him full force into the ground.
The hit left Favre grimacing on his knees in a way never before seen in his 19-year NFL career. It was his wife Deanna’s biggest fear, and it would not be his worst hit of the night.
A few plays later, after the flustered quarterback had gotten his legs back under him, the Saints looked to take him off of them for good.
On a blitz, Favre tried to get rid of the ball over the middle and avoid taking another big hit.
No such luck, as the pass would be intercepted and defensive ends Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray would perform a late high-low hit, with McCray’s low lunging shot at Favre’s leg leading to the legend being carried off the field thinking had he broken his ankle.
On this play, Pereira admitted a call should have been made. The league fined McCray a total of $20,000 for that and another hit on Favre which was flagged for unnecessary roughness and took place after a handoff to receiver Percy Harvin.
Instead of giving the Vikings the ball back with a fresh set of downs, and setting a clear boundary that cheap shots, or so-called “remember me hits,” would not be allowed, New Orleans was given momentum, the ball, and free reign in the backfield.
This was the beginning of the classic Favre meltdown.
The end was the same as it had been two years earlier with an interception as his last pass in the NFC Championship Game.
And it was all set in motion by a one-sided and inconsistent game by the infamous men in stripes.